(Le) Poisson Rouge (New York, NY)
When we heard this place was opening, in 2008, our knee-jerk reaction was negative. A new venue with a pretentious name, in the legendary Village Gate space? Things didn’t look promising. But then we saw the great bookings start to roll in. There was the expected indie rock fare, sure. But the wildly progressive space — which sounds excellent — also plays host to jazz, classical, and experimental music, along with film screenings, live theater, and some of the city’s best dance parties. Just last weekend, we saw No Wave pioneers James Chance and the Contortions tear it up at LPR — and we can’t think of better proof that the venue is keeping the old, weird Greenwich Village alive.
The Dodos at Rickshaw Stop. Image via
Rickshaw Stop (San Francisco, CA)
Housed in a former TV studio, the Rickshaw Stop is certainly an unusual space. It’s small and multi-level, funkily decorated with Christmas lights, and a theater-style red curtain. In true punk spirit, many of the events — including some of the dance nights — are all ages. Since it opened in 2004, the place has hosted a ton of up-and-coming bands. While alums include M.I.A., Jonathan Richman, and The Pipettes, upcoming bookings include Bear Hands, Freelance Whales, and Sic Alps. Plus, SF Weekly once described it this way: “It’s like being in Katie Holmes’ vagina. The hipper, Pieces of April version, of course.” (Must have been pre-Tom Cruise…)
Bottletree (Birmingham, Alabama)
Bottletree is celebrating its fourth anniversary, with a soul dance party — and for a venue with so much soul of its own, that seems just about right. This is the venue that gave independent music a home in Birmingham, much to the delight of the locals, so perhaps the hometown band Wild Sweet Orange describes it best: “They wanted to make the perfect place for bands; there are massage chairs and vegan food. They have this old Airstream trailer from the ’70s. It’s a fancy hangout, and not the typical bar you roll up to where nobody cares who you are.” Sounds good to us! The stellar schedule through the end of the year includes Azure Ray, The Low Anthem, and a New Years Eve blowout starring Man… or Astroman?
Floristree Space (Baltimore, MD)
You may have to do some digging to find the address of this warehouse residence/quasi-legal venue, and climb up about 25 flights of stairs to get there, but we promise it’s well worth it. This artist-run DIY space boasts some of the most inspired bills in Baltimore (and they’ve got their fair share of competition in that department), with bookings running the gamut from punk to avant-garde to the homegrown hip-hop subgenre Baltimore club. Did we mention that the space is about three times as big as your average cramped New York underground venue?
Detroit Bar (Costa Mesa, CA)
It may sound like a clusterfuck of odd ideas — a sleek, modern bar named for gritty Motor City and located in a freaking strip mall in Orange freaking County — but Detroit Bar is far cooler than the sum of its parts. Opened in 2001, in the space that used to house punk venue Club Mesa, the place is actually be worth traveling to the ‘burbs for. Patrons praise Detroit Bar’s strong drinks and weekly karaoke nights, and upcoming bookings feature Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s, The Legendary Pink Dots, and even RRIICCEE — the bizarre collaboration between Vincent Gallo and former Hole guitarist Eric Erlandson.
The Red Palace (Washington, DC)
A few months ago, we might have directed you to DC9 — but considering the seriously fucked up drama currently surrounding that club, we’re going to withhold our endorsement (and not just because the place has been, perhaps temporarily, shut down). Luckily, the same booker is scheduling shows at The Red Palace, a just-opened venue that combines small music space/New Orleans-inspired bar and kitchen The Red and the Black with burlesque/vaudeville bar The Palace of Wonders. In the next month or so, music fans can check out rising acts like Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. and solo sets by musicians like Cursive’s Tim Kasher and Steve Mason of Beta Band. Independent music + burlesque = an idea whose time has come.
The Vera Project (Seattle, WA) Images via
Like many great all-ages venues conceived out of the DIY punk ethos, The Vera Project isn’t just a place to see bands play. Founded in 2001 and staffed largely by volunteers, the non-profit’s mission is “to foster a participatory creative culture through popular music concerts, arts programs, experiential learning and volunteer opportunities for all ages,” especially young people 14-24. The Vera Project offers an art gallery, classes and facilities for silkscreening and audio recording, and many opportunities (including internships) for teens to get involved in its community and governance. But the place still takes its bookings very seriously: Dan Deacon, Titus Andronicus, and Deerhoof are just a few of the great bands that have performed there.
Pomegranates at The Drunken Unicorn. Image via
The Drunken Unicorn (Atlanta, GA)
How could you go wrong with a venue called The Drunken Unicorn and described by one reviewer as “equal parts whimsy and piss”? Located at Atlanta’s big, weird mega-club-plex the MJQ Concourse and decorated with — you guessed it — various unicorn-themed items, the place opened on New Years Eve 2004 and has been hosting epic shows ever since. Everyone from Phantogram to Wavves to Juliette Lewis has played there, and No Age will be taking the stage in January.
The Fresh & Onlys at Shea Stadium. Image via
Shea Stadium (Brooklyn, NY)
Choosing a single favorite DIY venue in Brooklyn is sort of like Sophie’s Choice — if Sophie had like 50 kids but could still only save one. And with Market Hotel apparently still bogged down in legal nonsense, the tiny Shea Stadium is our pick. The place run by a great local band, The So So Glos — which means it’s plugged in to great, new acts — along with producer Adam Reisch, who records and mixes all shows so performers will have great-sounding live material. Shea also boasts a pretty nice concrete balcony — a great place to cool off between sweaty sets.
Slowdown (Omaha, Nebraska)
One of America’s greatest music scenes of the 21st century, Omaha got the rock club it truly deserved in Slowdown. Operated by Saddle Creek Records — the driving force behind Omaha’s musical ascendancy — the venue opened in 2000 in the heart of the city’s artsy NoDo neighborhood. Esquire named Slowdown its Club of the Year in 2008, praising the place for its “mirrored bar, comfortable lounge chairs, and terrific sight lines provided by balconies that overlook a large, sunken floor in front of the stage.” Slowdown’s diverse upcoming lineup includes everyone from The Queers to Mogwai.